Cassandra Speaks – Am I being overly alarmist? Do you think immediate expectations will hurt the genre now that so many publishers have been gobbled up by larger media conglomerates? How does the romance section look in your local bookstores/discount stores? What can we as readers do? Subject: Book Store Offerings From: Deborah To: All Date Posted: Wed, Sep 02, 1998 at 12:24:53 (EDT) Email Address: Not Provided Message: I was amazed at your comment that you thought Barnes and Noble had a large romance section. Even their predecessor, Bookstop, didn’t have much in the romance department. And if you take a look at the relative prices of the other books in the store, most of which are non-fiction, you can understand why the romance selection is limited. If I want a new math book or computer book or economics or self-help or the new best seller, I go to B&N, because they have nice discounts. If I want romance, I go to Books-A-Million, which I think is comparable to Borders. There isn’t a math book in the entire store. But their romance and general fiction sections are fabulous. The same thing is true online. B&N for big bucks, and Amazon for romances and general fiction, and CD’s and videos, etc. Different audiences for each store type. ———————————————————————— Subject: Re: Book Store Offerings From: Joan To: Deborah Date Posted: Fri, Sep 11, 1998 at 10:10:34 (EDT) Email Address: Not Provided Message: I think that B&N differs from area to area of the country. In New York, whereB&N began as a discount textbook bookseller, you are right in your observation that you can get anything you want in general fiction, nonfiction and technical books, etc. However, their romance section in the local small shops in the city carry LOTS of romance. It sells. Pure and simple. However, in the NYC suburbs, the superstore romance section, while not large is definately larger than the sections in the local independent bookstores, as well as those in Waldenbooks, Encore Books and Dalton’s. We have no Border’s in my part of the world. I don’t know what you have near you but it sounds as if it’s quite different. ———————————————————————— Subject: Re: Book Store Offerings From: carol To: Joan Date Posted: Fri, Sep 11, 1998 at 18:57:58 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: I live in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Our B&N, IMO, made a big mistake when it did not put in a coffee house as part of the bookstore. Borders did. I have never seen the kinds of lines at B&N here that I see at Borders (to buy books). B&N also used to have a similar number of romance titles to our Borders. Now Borders’ romance selection is better than B&N’s. This is true even though Borders is in a much more upscale neighborhood than B&N is here. While visiting my sister in Naperville, IL (outside Chicago), she showed me the B&N going up in Naperville. It was huge and more than one story plus with the coffee house. So you’re right when you say that B&N differs from place to place. My sister’s suburban Borders was just like mine although the downtown Chicago one was huge. We do not have a Borders downtown although we do have a B&N that sells textbooks downtown next to Cleveland State. ———————————————————————— Subject: Cassandra Speaks From: carol To: All Date Posted: Tues, Sep 01, 1998 at 16:35:06 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: Here in Cleveland, Ohio, we have been pretty much taken over by the big conglomerate bookstores and the independents have died (except for used; all of the used are independent). I tend to shop in bookstores, not discount stores. In the bookstores one can find the historical and contemporary single titles. They are very heavy on new releases but our Borders has recently gotten better on backlisted titles in romance. Borders has also recently enlarged its romance collection. Barnes&Noble has a decent romance section but it could be improved. Dalton and Walden are primarily new releases and very big romance authors. I am tending to spend my book dollar at Borders, the used book stores, and now the internet (at Amazon). I doubt if I would have even looked in a UBS if it hadn’t been so difficult to find the backlists of so many romance authors. The UBS is also taking my order for new romance releases and selling them to me for 20% off. Apparently it gets these titles straight from a warehouse because they don’t stock new titles in general. I’m probably going to get all new releases there as it is the best deal I can get. I think this genre is too popular to be lost although it may go through ups and downs. ———————————————————————— Subject: Cassandra Speaks From: Ellen To: All Date Posted: Tues, Sep 01, 1998 at 14:07:27 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: I don’t think Cassandra is being an alarmist at all. My Barnes and Noble does not carry series romances any more either. Also, they have one doublesided shelf of books and LOTS of those are reprints by Danielle Steel, Lavyrle Spencer and Nora Roberts. I don’t often see books by new authors on the shelf. I found THE PIRATE PRINCE at Wal-Mart. As for regencies? Forget it! They don’t carry them. ———————————————————————— Subject: Re: Cassandra Speaks From: Lainy To: Ellen Date Posted: Mon, Sep 07, 1998 at 22:42:33 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: Romances in the Major bookstores, surely you jest. I read an article once that over 50% of all books sold each year are Romances, yet they take up about 3% of any bookstors. That is a little extreme to me. Even Half Price books does not have very many of the older books anymore. If I find an author that I like, and haven’t read before and I want to get more of her books, it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I am getting ready to try a Paperback Exchange, the only problem is that they are open to cater to non-working women (10-5 weekdays and 10-4 on Saturday). However, they are the only place to find old series romance, and older books of the big authors. For instance – – Nora Roberts has supposedly written over 100 books. In any major bookstore, I have only counted 10 on display. We sure are missing a lot!!!! ———————————————————————— Subject: Re: Cassandra Speaks From: Juliet To: Ellen Date Posted: Tues, Sep 01, 1998 at 17:26:50 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: This was the part of the column that immediately had me nodding in agreement. So many chain booksellers seem to know little and care less about the romance genre, and the publishers and distributors seem to see nothing wrong with underpromoting new authors or new books by someone who hasn’t made at least an extended bestseller list in the first one or two times out, making it almost impossible for them to ‘grow’ an audience for their work. The problem of having fewer editors who work patiently with writers to develop a good idea into a well-told story, and the shorter time before books are pulled off the shelves and sent back to publishers, also contribute to a lack of new blood and a surfeit of ‘bestseller’s backlists’ on the shelves It’s a vicious cycle. Authors try to tailor their books to the popular themes, so you get a slew of cowboy stories one year, and a bunch of romantic suspense the next. There’s nothing wrong with the themes themselves, but it means that authors can’t sell original ideas unless they already have a fairly long and solid track record. This leads to books that feel ‘all the same’, and with prices rising and limited budgets, an average reader may well decide to skip the unrecognized name and go for the product whose quality is already known. Another effect of this cycle is pressure on the big authors to produce more of the same, quickly. Few authors can do that and keep the books fresh and engaging, with high quality writing. It seems to me as if we’re the victims of the genre’s success. I think publishers assume that romance readers are generally not interested in stories that are out-of-the-ordinary, and will buy certain types of books regardless of the quality. They don’t think it really matters if new writers are developed, new types of stories tried out, and new readers added to the romance-reading public because they found an author, a story, characters, that seemed to speak particularly to their needs. I’m here to say that it *does* matter. I started reading romances because I loved history and costume drama. And I started by reading regencies, and only regencies. It took quite a while before I tried other types of romances. If my only choice had been between a contemporary romantic suspense (plucky, attractive, female, journalist/policewoman/PI investigates scary situation, aided by maddeningly attractive, tough, streetwise, male, policeman/ agent/ former marine) or nineteenth century Western (cowboy who fought in Civil War meets beautiful widow with young children trying valiantly to run her husband’s ranch), I wouldn’t have started. And if I had found the books I first read as poorly written and edited as some of the books I see now, or as expensive, I would have given up. So, sooner or later, the publishers, distributors and big chain booksellers will find their sales of the genre seriously off, but we readers, and the potential readers, will have lost a great deal more. ———————————————————————— Subject: Re: Cassandra Speaks From: Joan To: Juliet Date Posted: Fri, Sep 11, 1998 at 10:29:50 (EDT) Email Address: Not Provided Message: HOORAY JULIET!!!! You have addressed in your final paragraph something that has been annoying me for a long time. Namely the tendency of so many books to copy each other or even to copy some popular story or movie. When are authors/publisher/editors going to realize that we really don’t want to read the same book written over and over and over. I think I have emailed Laurie at least twice on this subject. Why are so many romances simply rehashed unoriginal plots? I too love historicals because of the costumes and the idea of what it would be like to live and love in a different time and place. But why do we have to keep reading John Wayne movies over and over? Or Zorro or Captain Blood? What is even more absurd is the authors who take the same basic plot and rewrite it twice or three times and merely change the era in which it takes place. But, somehow I must REALLY object to authors who take the poplular topic of the month (say angels, time travel, futuristic novels, past lives, Civil War, etc.) and try to make it their own, failing miserably in the attempt. There are some romance authors who are really good writers who can do this without embarassment. However, they are very few. Legion are those who have obviously been told by their editors that ‘now we want you to write about angels’, or whatever. Or at least I hope this is what happens. I would be VERY disappointed to think that someone like Jude Devereux reads Outlander and thinks ‘now I’ll write about time travel and past lives!’ Is the problem here publish quarterly or yearly or whatever or perish? ———————————————————————— Alina Laurie on Cassandra:

[this is Alina, I’m using my boyfriend’s e-mail account] Hi Laurie, How are you? I’ve been reading your column for a long time (as you know!) and I think the midlist issues you brought up this time are very important. As you know, I worked at Bantam Doubleday Dell this summer as an industrial engineering co-op. I spent the summer working in the Returns Department – you know how the publishing industry works: if the bookstore can’t sell a book, it can return it to the customer and get the money back. Barnes & Nobles sends BDD nine-ten truckloads of books every financial quarter. Each skid (pallet) holds 1,200 books, each truck can hold about 45,000 books. So thats 405,000 books. AND THAT DOES NOT INCLUDE STRIPPED COVERS FROM MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS!!!! Currently, 30% of the books BDD sells are returned. One year ago, that number was 28%. It’s rising. And the reason is…. like you say in your column, the mom-and-pop corner bookstores are disappearing – Barnes & Noble and Borders are taking over the market. Every B&N and Borders carries roughly the same inventory, because they have their own “distribution centers”. These huge bookstores want huge amounts of books… so they can set up floor displays and multiple displays of the book all over the store. If Borders has 400 copies of Danielle Steele’s latest release sitting all over the store, customers will be more likely to buy it – if the store sells 1 copy for every 20 they display, THEY MAKE MONEY!! because they can return the other 19 copies to the publisher. Instead of buying 20 different titles, the stores would rather buy 20 of the same title, to make the book look more popular. I know readers always feel it’s the publishers fault, but the publisher does not consider us, the READER, to be their customer. When I was working at BDD this summer, processing the returns, we called the book stores the “customer”. Like you said in your article, the books we see on the shelves were contracted a year ago. Even though B&N is one bookstore, if they decide they aren’t going to carry series romance anymore so they can use the shelf-space for more Johanna Lindsey’s and Julie Garwood’s, the publisher will cancel the line – because B&N is such a HUGE customer, the publisher must cater to the needs of the customer. Publishers used to have more control over the market – but now B&N and Borders control the market. Did you know Waldenbooks and Borders use the same distributors for books? I don’t know how to change this trend, in fact I don’t know if we as readers can do anything – one thing we can do is start complaining to our local B&N and Borders. The publishers don’t care what we think anymore – they care what the bookstores think. We need to find someone to support midlist romance authors. We need to find someone who will order 200,000 copies of Julia Quinn’s latest novel and distribute them to book stores across the nation. If someone started ordering huge quantities of midlist authors, the publishers would pick them up and start printing books like crazy!!!! so, that’s what I think. Until we become the publisher’s customer, midlist authors are going to disappear. ************* changing the subject… today is my last day in Chicago! I’m driving home to Cleveland today. I’m spending 2 1/2 weeks with my family and then I’m headed off to Scotland! I’m in the middle of reading REFORMING HARRIET – hopefully I’ll finish it in the car, and I’ll try to write the review as quickly as possible. Yours truly, Alina Laurie Subject: Re: Cassandra Speaks From: Karen Wheless To: Juliet Date Posted: Wed, Sep 02, 1998 at 16:33:19 (EDT) Email Address: [email protected] Message: I can’t figure out bookstores, especially large chain bookstores, that don’t give space to romance. After all, we are the largest sellers! Aren’t they just shooting themselves in the feet? Especially in areas where there are only one or two bookstores, they must be losing a lot of business. My local Barnes and Noble actually does have a relatively large romance section, but they don’t respect romance very much. They have ‘book groups’ for every genre, except romance. However, I was thrilled to see that the local Waldens is moving their romance section from a back corner to the front, and is expanding it. Maybe that complaint letter I sent a few months ago helped! Now that I can order on the internet, though, I have less patience with the local stores. Too often they put out the books late, have no idea when books come out, and mess up any special orders. If I can’t walk into a store and get the newest book, then why not just order online? I may have to wait a few days, but the price is about the same, even with shipping. I actually heard a salesperson at Walden’s tell a customer that she didn’t know when or if a book would be available, so he would be better off ordering from Amazon! I read an interesting article recently, that suggested that, in a few years or less, no book would go out of print. Computer software would be available that would allow printing of books on demand, just like regular paperbacks and at the same prices, which would then be shipped out to individual customers. This makes sense, they don’t have to ‘set’ type anymore, a computer should be able to print 1000 different books just as easily as 1000 copies of the same book. And if a store like Amazon can send out books to individual customers at about the same cost as a book that is shipped and sold from a bookstore, why have bookstores at all? If this happens, it will definitely shake up the industry. I’m not sure if it will be all good – I would miss the feeling of browsing at a bookshelf, or chatting with people in the store – but it will make bookstores think more carefully about how to attract customers, and not be so complacent. They aren’t the only show in town anymore! Karen